So, un-p.c. as it may be, isn’t there something a little appealing about the notion of marrying up? Way up, Cinderella-style, even if that once-poor little thing has ignited ample feminist ire over the years.
For Americans, royalty is something akin to what the rest of the world calls football; we’re interested enough in the big events, but all interim goings-on, and most certainly the deep cultural significance, escape us. We don’t really get it. If we did get it, we’d likely line up with the “it’s anachronistic” debate team, not a small constituency in Europe and Britain.
Most Americans could not pick Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria out of a lineup of two. Yet her wedding on Saturday made the U.S. news, with the emphasis on her husband, HRH Prince Daniel, Duke of Västergötland (the former Daniel Westling and once her personal trainer). Surely there will be interest here, as well, when Monaco’s Prince Albert, one generation removed from mainline Philly, finally says “I do” to his fiancée Charlene Wittstock, a former Olympic swimmer from South Africa. And when and if Prince William pops the question to Kate Middleton, we’ll be all over it.
Charming young commoner marries prince or princess — it all sounds so delightful. Only, invariably, such commoners must give up their prior calling, whether as trainer, newscaster (Crown Princess Letizia of Spain), diplomat (Crown Princess Masako of Japan) or party girl (Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway).
In its place: procedure, pomp, ritual of a sort that yields varying degrees of support from the home front. (On the eve of the Swedish wedding, a newspaper poll showed that less than 50 percent of the country’s populace supports the monarchy, and a full quarter outright dislikes it.) Dated or not, according to those who follow such relationships seriously, a royal marriage can make for a grueling existence for which short-term training has often proven inadequate. “It’s so difficult if they haven’t been brought up to the sort of protocol and formality of it all,” says Judy Wade, royal correspondent for Hello magazine, who recently returned to London from a press trip to Africa with Princes William and Harry. “You have to give up your job. You have to do charity work all the time and it’s a bit mind-numbing. The best example is Princess Diana, [who] nearly went crackers. Fergie is always on edge. And there are other members of the British royal family that have cracked up as well. They’re not so well-known.”
Nor is such stress a British specialty. In 17 years of marriage, Harvard-educated Princess Masako has had such a difficult time (widely attributed to pressure to push out a son, which she hasn’t; she and Crown Prince Naruhito have a daughter) that she shuns the spotlight and, according to the Palace, suffers from “adjustment disorder.”
Unlike the arranged marriages of old, which all parties involved understood to be contracts, modern love matches carry particular burdens, argues royal historian Hugo Vickers. “If they marry for love, they are expected to remain in love,” he says. “Secondly, you have this huge, huge, major [media] intrusion watching their every move in a way that didn’t used to go on in the past.
“I think it is important,” Vickers continues, “for [a royal] to marry somebody who wants the job. Because it is not only just a marriage, it’s also a huge job. It’s a terrible self-imposed burden in many ways.”
So much for the supposed joys of marrying up royally. But the possible pitfalls make such weddings no less entertaining — starting with the visual trappings. When else does one get to see a cross-generational lineup of ladies decked in diagonal sashes? And oh, the bling. At the wedding of Victoria and Daniel, the crown heads of Europe were just that — crowned. In one photo alone, Sophie, Countess of Wessex; Princess Margarita of Romania, and Denmark’s Queen Margrethe sported dazzling diamond tiaras, the winner of which belonged to Margarita — a wide, flat geometric Grecian key affair. (Each, by the way, trumped the bride’s cameo clunker, which has family significance but was too much for her simple dress.) It made for a high-jewelry-lover’s delight.
Will one be able to say the same of the big wedding upcoming on our shores, Chelsea Clinton’s? Hardly (even if her bridesmaid count is rumored to be upward of 13).